Album Reviews

James Yorkston & The Athletes – Just Beyond The River

(Domino) UK release date: 20 September 2004

James Yorkston & The Athletes - Just Beyond The River There’s a distinctly autumnal feel about James Yorkston‘s second album for Domino. Teaming up once again with his band The Athletes, Yorkston has also enlisted Kieran Hebden (Four Tet) on production duties.

Having heard Four Tet’s previous album you might expect a plethora of electronic noises, but that’s not the case – indeed the only studio trickery seems to be the light burst of white noise towards the end of Heron.

No, where Hebden seems to have excelled is in the subtle production workings such as the addition of a glockenspiel to double the guitar melody in Edward, plus the restrained use of drums and bass. Indeed, The Snow It Melts The Soonest is the only track to actively feature percussion, and although the whole record is low in range it doesn’t go heavy on prominent bass lines.

A refreshingly original approach, then, helped by the timbre of James’s voice. He sings in a restrained manner, close to the mic and with an intimate, deceptively casual tone. At times the rougher edge to his voice brings to mind a very mild Shane MacGowan, but the similarity ends there.

His lyrics, too, are personal, often achingly poignant. Hermitage recalls how they “told me I was way too cold to be forever, to be a father”, and in the more exuberant Banjo #1, “here’s a man who knows what love means to you”. In the almost sinister tones of Edward, a traditional song arranged by Yorkston, the line goes “how came the blood on your shirt sleeve”. It’s a dark and powerful track, heavily punctuated and with a neat line in word repetition.

All the music on Just Beyond The River unfolds at a natural, unhurried pace, completely free of pretension and unnecessary instrumental dressing. Shipwreckers, having declared, “you’re the girl I want and this is the place”, disappears like a bunch of leaves in the breeze. The weighty Heron builds inexorably from a hymn-like opening to a strong finish. Meanwhile Banjo #2 hints at a more uptempo approach but soon shakes that off.

A slow burning album, made with great care and purpose, and containing a powerful undercurrent. It should appeal to followers of folk-tinged pop, being more folk than pop, but also to singer/songwriter types who want to broaden their horizons a bit. As Yorkston sings, “I’ll stay here til the woodcock crows and the martin takes his wing” you know he means what he sings – a quality too often overlooked in music.

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More on James Yorkston
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Yorkston/ Thorne/ Khan – Everything Sacred
James Yorkston – The Cellardyke Recording And Wassailing Society
James Yorkston – I Was A Cat From A Book
James Yorkston & The Big Eyes Family Players – Folk Songs